clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why Domantas is making the right choice by heading to the NBA

New, comments

An exciting time for Domantas, a depressing time for Zag fans.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Domantas Sabonis is ready for the NBA. It became obvious midway through the season as he and Kyle Wiltjer were carrying the team through a rough patch after the loss of Przemek Karnowski. After dominating during the tournament run--especially outshining projected Top-10 pick, Jakob Poeltl, in the Round of 32--the writing was on the wall.

It doesn't require projection to see that Domantas has elite rebounding ability, a trait that will play up in the NBA immediately. When you fire up the game tape, it's also easy to see that he's a very solid defender, with a strong understanding of defensive concepts. While not an explosive athlete, Sabonis is very mobile and has no problem with physicality, so I don't anticipate he'll have any issues guarding PF's or C's in the NBA. His defense and rebounding alone will give coaches the confidence to give him some minutes immediately in the NBA, and allow him to be a steady contributor on any team.

On the offensive end, Domantas' growth in his 2 years with Gonzaga was extensive. Domas already had excellent footwork when he got to Spokane, but that continued to improve during his time with Mark Few's staff. By the end of his sophomore year, Domas had some of the best footwork from a college big man that I've ever seen...ever. This is significant as it allows Domas to win most of his battles on offense without the need for the explosive athleticism that scouts knock him for. When he gets to the next level, he'll be playing against a lot of really good athletes, but his technical ability inside will give him a good base from which to continue his development. Additionally, he should have no problem operating in the pick-n-roll, the foundation of every NBA offense, as his mobility will make it easy for him to dive to the basket and his strength allows him to finish at the rim.

The most common knocks I see on Domantas around various NBA draft outlets is his lack of elite athleticism, length, and limited ability to stretch the floor. The first two issues aren't going to change with additional time in college, and he can continue working on his shooting (which already showed improvement this year) at the next level. A return to Gonzaga would've allowed him to continue working on diversifying his offensive skill set while being the focal point of the offense, but entering the draft now seems like the best move for him (while simultaneously being extremely depressing as a Zag fan).

Multiple draft prognosticators remarked late in the season, and especially throughout the tournament, that Domas had improved his draft stock as much as anyone in college ball. Projected as a late first-rounder at the start of the season, Domas has moved himself solidly into the mid-teens and possibly further up in the lottery. Significantly, the 2017 draft class is widely considered to be a much stronger group than this year's class, making this as good a time as any for Domas to maximize his earning potential with a high draft slot. The lack of elite athleticism would keep him out of the Top-5 of the draft in any year, while the strengths he brings to the table are ready for the league now. When you consider that most of the time NBA scouts get less high on a prospect as they get older (Buddy Hield is the exception, not the rule), because there's less projection left in their game, Domas could do more harm than good to his draft stock by staying in college for another year or two.

After factoring in the above, and considering the risk of serious injury, it makes too much sense for Domas to make the jump to the next level this summer. You may be wondering why he'd jump the gun on hiring an agent now rather than testing the waters and making his decision in May. By being clear about his intentions, he frees up a scholarship and allows for Mark Few and the rest of the coaches to better plan for the offseason (i.e., work the transfer market).

I've really enjoyed watching Domas play as a Zag over the last two years. Over the last few months, I've gushed about his game more than I care to admit. While nothing is official, and we're only operating on reports, I would be absolutely stunned if he returned to Spokane in the fall. Selfishly, it would be awesome to see him back. And if he stayed for four years he'd almost certainly be the greatest Zag of all time. But, this is too good of an opportunity for him, and I'd advise anyone else in similar circumstances to make the same choice. While it will be sad not to have him around next year, I have no doubt we'll have numerous chances to watch him throughout a long and fruitful NBA career.